Professors, students, University administration, newspaper columnists, and many more freely opinionated people tout the college study abroad experience as the perfect way to learn a language, have fun, bolster a resume, and expand one's understanding of the world and oneself. Hence it is becoming the popular thing to do, especially at Willamette University, where 70% of undergraduate students study abroad sometime in their college career. I was happy to go through the lengthy application process in order to contribute to this statistic and be placed in southern New Zealand, right where I wanted to be.
I played with thoughts of overseas adventures for many months, but it did not become real for me until my parents were driving me to PDX airport. I think that most people know what I'm talking about when I say "real." I can know of something, even something grand and exciting, but that knowledge is muted until I know it in my stomach. Six months is a long time to be away from everything I know. By the time I get back, my mom's life will be greatly changed as she leaves her job, all of my friends will have had momentous experiences abroad and—presumably—have changed because of them, and my other loved ones will likely have had similar formative experiences. Despite my stomach's respect for the gravity of my situation, I knew that all I could do was give my parents my love and turn all of my optimism and focus to the coming journey.
I had bought online a one-way ticket to New Zealand several months ago. During my search most tickets were priced around $1,300, so when I saw an $816 option I immediately booked it, thinking that I should beat out other world travelers to the deal. It was shortly after this that I looked up reviews for the site that I bought this ticket from, "cheaptickets.com". Reviews were almost unanimous in their censure of this site's tendencies to not actually book flights people had bought, charge excessive hidden fees, and generally attempt to rip people off at every turn. Gulp. If it did work out as expected, however, I would have a six-hour layover in Los Angeles, where my beautiful sister Brandi lives not 20 minutes from the airport.
It worked out! You can stop holding your breath. I had a few minor problems with failing batteries, engines in need of a rub-down, and computer glitches, but I have no complaints. Brandi showed me a great time in LA, where we did a small hike with a friend of hers, ate at the Hare Krishna community center (great all-you-can-eat vegetarian/vegan buffet), and played Wii bowling. Thanks, Sister! She then taxied me back to LAX, where she dropped me off at Terminal 7, where we thought my flight would depart from. A 20-minute walk got me to Terminal 2, where my flight actually departed from, and from there I took three flights to get me to Dunedin.
I have to plug for Air New Zealand, here, as it was the best long-distance flight I've ever had. I had plenty of room to stretch my legs, the food was good, I could actually sleep, and they provided dozens of free movies. Kiwis should be in charge of all airlines!
For the next few days I met many, many people (mostly Americans), spent money, drank, ate, and had adventure. If you think that Independence Day is a big deal in the US, you should party with a bunch of raucous Americans in another county on our nation's birthday. We even had a fire spinning show, courtesy of Jethro Hardinge, one of two Kiwi hosts at my flat.
I'll just touch on two more outings. The first was to the botanic gardens in Dunedin. Though the flowers here are less impressive in the winter, their aviary cannot fail to impress. They had many exotic birds, including a talking parrot and Mr. T, as pictured below.
The next adventure was to Dunedin's Middle Beach for some frisbee and exploring. The ocean was refreshingly cold and made for a nice swim, and we found a swing pentagon. Yes, a SWING PENTAGON! Why don't we have these in the States? It's great fun kicking each other at each forward swing, and it just looks good.
I register for classes tomorrow, so wish me luck!